“I Was Just Laying on the Ground Screaming”: Protestors Recount Alleged Abuse While In Custody

by Carolyn Bick

Face-down in the gravel, hands cuffed behind her back, Ash could hear herself screaming. She had just been arrested by a group of Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers, who had come speeding across the grass towards a group of protestors at Cal Anderson Park during a Black Lives Matter protest on July 25.

“I was dragged across the gravel on my face. I began to have a panic attack, and I was just laying on the ground screaming. I was picked up and hit with a baton. I was forcefully shoved backwards, so my legs hit this ledge behind me, forcing me into a seated position,” Ash says in a video she later recorded about the incident, so she wouldn’t have to relive the trauma she experienced over and over again recounting the story for different journalists and lawyers who have approached her. Several times throughout the video, Ash has to pause and collect herself.

“I told them I was having a panic attack, that I couldn’t get up, that I was injured,” says Ash, who has declined to give her last name to protect her privacy. “And then I was thrown onto the ground again, and four officers in riot gear tackled me, put a knee on my back and arrested me face-down. They also left me face-down for several minutes, until I sat myself up.” 

The officers who arrested Ash and other protesters around 7:30 or 8 p.m. that night also allegedly did not tell Ash what she was being arrested for, other than “sarcastically” telling her that she “shouldn’t have been there.” The officers also allegedly ripped off the protesters’ masks, and were not wearing any themselves, despite the current pandemic and the statewide mandatory masking order.

What Ash says happened to her during her arrest and during her detention over the next 15 hours is not unique. According to Ash and her lawyer, Sadé Smith, several other protesters who were scooped up by SPD officers that night suffered similar abuse. 

One protester named Samantha Six was allegedly denied her seizure medication. Six texted Smith details about the experience of her arrest and detention, which Smith shared to Twitter with Six’s consent via direct screenshots of their conversation. A video taken immediately prior to Six’s arrest can be found here.

In the screenshots shared to Twitter, Six said that she was put in a psychiatric ward cell, because she continued to scream that she needed her medication. When she tried to give her neurologist’s name to the nurse, Six said that “the nurse walked away from me, telling me I needed to change my attitude before she would listen and she didn’t ask me for my specialist, she asked for my pharmacy so that’s just how its [sic] going to be.” 

It is unclear from the screenshots if this took place in the West Precinct or at the King County Jail, though Smith said she believes it was at the jail. Six was not immediately available for comment.

In her video, Ash backs up Six’s recollection of screaming for her medication, saying that Six’s screaming was the first thing she heard upon entering the West Precinct, where she, Six, and several other protestors were first held. Ash says in the video that Six, who was in a different holding cell, was “distraught, desperate, screaming,” but that officers were “laughing at her, calling her crazy.”

“Even after she left, and she’s saying, ‘Where’s my meds? I need my meds’ — she was transported [to the King County Jail] before I was — even after she left, one officer was obsessively talking about ‘the blonde gal,’ meaning Samantha, and she was crazy, and how mean she was to them — meaning that she was screaming for her medicine,” Ash says. “How glad they were she was gone — they were just consistently making fun of her condition.”

After reading the original version of this article, Jake Koenigsberg, another protester who was arrested and detained separately from Ash and Six, reached out to the Emerald on Friday morning to say that he also heard Six screaming for her medicine in the holding cell at the West Precinct. He also said that the officers mocked and ignored Six’s pleas.

Ash says that officers also mocked the remaining protesters, telling her, “how do I like being lumped in with all the protesters, just like they are being lumped in with all the bad cops, as they abused me.”

“It was very clear that they were enjoying our detainment and our abuse,” Ash says.

In her text messages to Smith, Six said she was offered a used face mask that she refused, saying that she wanted a blue medical face mask like she saw law enforcement officers wearing, because she knew that would be clean. After that, she said, law enforcement officers “[threw] a net over my face and [slammed] me into a chair to cuff me,” because she refused the used face mask. Before that, she said, she was forced to strip in front of a male officer, who allegedly said, “‘I appreciate your mediocre participation’ before smirking and slamming the door.”

She also said that this male officer “was informed I’m a rape survivor before making that comment and smirk[.]” 

When a woman took her fingerprints that night, Six said she asked the woman if she could feel and see Six’s hands shaking from the seizures she had been having. Six said the woman said yes, but that “reporting it to anyone beyond finger printing [sic] wasn’t her job.”

Again, it is unclear from these text messages where the fingerprinting or the alleged mask incident described above took place — at the West Precinct or at the King County Jail — and Smith said in a later text message to the Emerald that she was unsure about the location. Six was not immediately available for comment.

When Ash was moved to and fingerprinted at the King County Jail, Ash says in the video that she could again hear Six screaming, except when Six was quiet and lying on the floor.

“And that’s when we were most worried about her,” Ash said in a follow-up text message to the Emerald.

Leading up to her transport to King County Jail, Ash says she and others were forced to sit on the ground of their concrete cell, their hands cuffed behind their backs for hours. A fellow protester, David Stanton, who was arrested around the same time as Ash, said in a written statement emailed to the Emerald that the group was there until well past midnight, just sitting on the hard floor, cuffs digging into their skin.

“While in SPD custody an officer tightened another detainee’s and my cuffs so tight after we used the toilet that the cuffs broke through our skin, and when asked to loosen them she refused. Only after well over an hour did another officer agree to loosen the cuffs but scolded us for moving too much,” Stanton’s statement reads.

Most of the other protesters were also covered in pepper spray, and Ash says none of them were allowed to wash up. Everyone was denied medical treatment and many were denied their medications, Ash said in a later phone interview with the Emerald. One young woman, Ash said, had so much pepper spray on her face that she could barely open her eyes. Another young woman with a spinal injury allegedly suffered during her arrest was never taken to the hospital and never received medical care, instead forced to sit against a hard stone wall. Even after Ash got home, her wounds were still filled with gravel from being dragged across the ground.

After Stanton and four or five others were transported to the jail sometime between 1 and 2 a.m., Stanton said he was booked and allowed to make a phone call around 2 a.m. However, this was not the case for all the protesters: Six said she pleaded and “pounded on the door for hours demanding my attorney and phone call and never got it and was left in solitary to have seizures in front of officers and medical staff. [King County Jail guards] even mocked them [my seizures].”

Smith said in an interview with the Emerald that when she went to visit Six and three other protestors the morning of July 26, she was denied access to Six. The guard told Smith that Six had said she didn’t want a lawyer, and allegedly wanted a phone call, first, before she spoke with a lawyer. Six also told Smith that “I NEVER told officers I didn’t want to see my legal [representation].”

“They wouldn’t say why they wouldn’t give her a phone call. They just didn’t,” Smith said. 

Audio of some of Smith’s interaction with the guard.

When Smith visited the other detained protestors, though, she was shocked at what she saw.

“[One protestor’s] face got bashed into the ground when he was arrested. [Another protester’s] didn’t, but … he had these huge marks on his body, like from munitions,” Smith said. “The marks on his body are horrific.”

She also said at least one other protester was not told what he was being charged with.

Smith also said that the police alleged that Ash, Six, Stanton, and the others they arrested were part of “a large, violent group that had gathered with the express, stated intent to cause violence and destruction.” Ash, Stanton, and Smith all said this is false. The police also said that some members of the group had set fire to the construction site adjacent to the youth detention center, but Smith said that at least one person charged with this “was nowhere near that, didn’t even know about it.”

The construction site in question is not near Cal Anderson Park.

She also said that most of the statements signed under penalty of perjury were “copy-paste jobs,” and that lawyers who had tried to visit their clients at the King County Jail were allegedly told they would have to leave at 10 p.m. or be locked inside for the night.

When she was finally taken to the jail after midnight, Ash says in the video that the group was originally told they would be allowed to leave that night, and were only being charged with misdemeanors. However, this was not the case. They were instead allegedly forced to spend the night in the jail, without blankets or food. Ash says they didn’t even have water, as she and the eight protesters she was detained with were afraid to use the fountain above the toilet, due to the possibility they could be infected with the novel coronavirus. 

Ash allegedly couldn’t even get a handle on what her specific situation was: she says that when she tried to find out what her bail was, “a court official refused to give me bail info, saying I was rude, and walked away.”

Stanton was more fortunate, saying that he “was assigned a bunk around 2:30 am, given a sleeping mat, two sheets, one blanket, a towel[,] and a cup then sent to bed.” However, despite the relatively better conditions, Stanton said he was still held in custody for nearly 18 hours in close quarters with unmasked people who were coughing from pepper spray and other chemical irritants. He was given food Sunday morning.

“In the morning I was finally able to contact my parents, I had a conversation with a public defender who let me know that my bail had been posted, that I would be released Sunday afternoon and took my statement on what occurred,” Stanton’s statement reads. “[I] got a voicemail Monday morning from the city attorney’s office informing me that no charges were being filed.”

Stanton did not say whether he was able to sleep, but because of the conditions she was kept in, Ash says she was awake until 6 a.m. on July 26. She had been told that she was supposed to be bailed out that morning at 7 a.m. 

But that didn’t happen either. 

Ash says the group was moved elsewhere inside the jail at 6 a.m., and barred from making phone calls, even though they asked to be allowed to call the people who were supposed to be coming to bail them out. The jail staff also started telling the group they were being transferred to Kent at 8 a.m.

“I said, ‘No, that’s not correct, we’re being bailed out at 7 a.m.’ And they tell me to stop talking, that I’ve been told multiple times that I’m being transferred to Kent,” Ash says in the video. “They said it was due to COVID-19 and no space, but they had not been social distancing, up to that point, or even wearing masks themselves.”

Ash says she later learned from her boyfriend, who had come to bail her out, that he had shown up at 6:45 a.m. to do so, but the cashier with whom he could post bail was allegedly half an hour late, not showing up until 7:30 a.m. Ash also said that her boyfriend had written down her name on a list of people not to be transferred, but “when the officers came back with a list, somehow, my name was not on it.”

“They took it off, so they could transfer me away from him, and I wouldn’t be able to be bailed out as quickly,” Ash alleges. She later told the Emerald that she thinks this happened to her because she was “mouthy,” and the officers wanted to detain her as long as possible to make her “as miserable as possible, physically and psychologically.”

She then said a guard she had never met came in, and when Ash tried to tell the officer that her boyfriend was there to bail her out, the officer allegedly said, “You have been a nuisance all night. Stop talking.”

“And I said, ‘I have never met you.’ I had never met this person before at all,” Ash says. “Then, I was placed in cuffs, a belly chain, loaded into a prisoner transport bus, and taken all the way to Kent.”

Meanwhile, her boyfriend was still at the King County Jail waiting for her, and because jail officials took his phone and put it in a locker, she couldn’t reach him through a phone call. While her bail was eventually posted, around 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, July 26, all of Ash’s possessions, including her phone, were still at the West Precinct. Fortunately, she says, she was able to get in touch with Puget Sound Prisoner Support, which sent a member to wait with her, until she could get in touch with her boyfriend, and he could pick her up.

Though she was supposed to be due in court the next day on the charge of failure to disperse, Ash says these charges were dropped.

Despite this treatment, Ash says in the video — and also said in her later phone call with the Emerald — that this experience only strengthened her and others’ resolve.

“This brutality is not new for people of color,” Ash said in her later interview with the Emerald. “Our crime was protesting and … that brutality happened to us, but we know it’s not new, and that’s why we are there in the first place — to support Black lives. And that putting us in there, brutalizing us, made us stronger and connected us, and we will be back out there protesting as soon as we can.”

SPD Public Information Officer Sgt. Lauren Truscott returned the Emerald‘s request for comment on Friday morning, saying “[i]f there are allegations of abuse I would encourage those people to file complaints with the Office of Police Accountability.”

She said that any allegations of misconduct will be investigated, and did not have more comments to add at this time. She did not ask what the allegations were.

The Emerald also reached out to the King County Sheriff’s Office for comment, but the office clarified they do not play a role at the jail.

King County Jail media staff returned the Emerald‘s request for comment on Aug. 6, nearly a week after the Emerald reached out. The jail said that “[w]e provide everyone in our care with food, water and fresh clothing,” and provided what appeared to be generic policy statements, but did not specifically deny any wrongdoing or provide any evidence that jail staff treated detained protesters appropriately.

An earlier version of this article stated Stanton was held without food for 18 hours.

Carolyn Bick is a journalist and photographer based in South Seattle. You can reach them here and here.

Featured image by Susan Fried.